Fynbos Immersion


Jane, our content manager, reflects on her trip out to South Africa to film Roushanna Gray at Goodhope Gardens and Nursery. Watch Roushanna in Wild – A State of Mind  here > 

I’m trying to put my finger on what is special about the way that Roushanna lives, what’s so different. And can it be replicated, in my life, for example?

Firstly, there’s no denying the location is amazing. Her centre of operations happens to be on the doorstep of the world’s largest floral kingdom, which sits 10 minutes’ east of the dramatic Atlantic. There aren’t any immediate neighbours; if you follow the road south you soon end up in the peninsula national park with the Eland Bok and the sugar bush birds.

In collaboration with Claudia, a yoga instuctor, she offers a ‘fynbos immersion’ as part of a visit to the nursery. It involves a short trek out of the back of the planted land, through the scrub and fragrant dry buchu bushes, to take a cup of tea and some time to listen on the mountain.

From the slopes you can look back over the nursery to the waves breaking in the bay. Roushanna jokes about ‘surfing for your supper’, but she actually can and will pop out and do that. Pluck an ‘iceplant’ leaf from one of the nursery beds and you can taste the salt. She has both the hill ecosystem and the intertidal world to draw on.

Meadowsweet flowers

Roushanna routinely spends hours exploring the mountain and seeking to understand its flora.

Secondly, there are histories, relationships, she has bonded with that place. Roushanna routinely spends hours exploring the mountain and seeking to understand its flora, as her mother-in-law started doing in the 70s. It’s a mountain they nearly defended with their lives in the wild fires of the winter. She gave birth to her own daughter on the old quiet house’s sofa.

Her ties with the local community are strong and reciprocal, like an extended self-sufficiency. We saw a noisy litter of piglets, destined for the local restaurants whose scraps they collect in the first place to feed the sows. They had a vacant shed which they rent to a guy handmaking surfboards [Burnett Wood]. They use the shavings in the garden’s smoker Roushanna designed and constructed. Knackered surfboards make up a fence to one of the vegetable plots.

Thirdly, while she is intensely rooted, she is very free. She is as mobile as anyone, maybe more so, taking her skills and earning her livelihood in camps round the eastern cape, or in the big city an hour to the north. She has a confidence; she will not go hungry.

Her jobs on the land are manual, practical, faded boots moving day to day through the dry soils, fingers picking and planting. But Roushanna also trades something cerebral with that soil, it feels like empathy. Much of her time is spent reading the landscape to note changes, finding new ways to express its flavours, being curious, learning from it.

This place has furnished her with intellectual property, and knowing stuff gives you resilience; the detail is specific, but the approach is transferable. It’s looking after the ecosystem, enquiring of it, and then receiving confirmation that it’s an ecosystem that is capable of supporting you, with food, yes, but also with a fulfilling sense of your own identity. That’s the thing about her way of life that any of us might copy.

on the mountain

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